Women’s History Month: Kathe Kollwitz
Kathe Kollwitz, born Kathe Schmidt, was a German artist, born in 1867, in what is now Kaliningrad, Russia. Her father enrolled her in art lessons as a teenager when he realized her talent and potential. She then enrolled in an art school for women in Berlin. This is where the themes of social justice began to shine through in her artwork.
At the age of 21, she went to study at the Women’s Art School in Munich. She became engaged to and then married a young doctor named Karl Kollwitz, which put her in close proximity to the suffering and pains that the lower classes endured.
Her two major art cycles, The Weavers and The Peasant War, both considered to be her finest works, were completed in the years between 1892 – 1908. Kollwitz received much recognition for these pieces throughout Europe.
During World War I, as Kollwitz was experimenting in sculpture, Expressionism, and the Bauhaus movement, her son Peter was killed on the battlefield. This traumatic event affected her deeply and the effects of World War I was a constant subject of her artworks following the war.
In 1920, she was elected as the first woman to the Prussian Academy of Arts, a monumental honor.
During World War II, Kollwitz and her husband were visited and threatened by the Gestapo, but, as she was a figure of international acclaim by this time, they were not taken away. In 1943, she was evacuated from Berlin (her husband passed away in 1940) to a small town outside of Dresden. She passed away 16 days before the war ended.
Her legacy of emotionally moving sculptures, etchings, woodcuts, and more, show the turmoil in which Kollwitz lived most of her life and her hope that war would cease. She said, “There has been enough of dying! Let not another man fall!”
The BYU Museum of Art has several pieces by Kollwitz in the permanent collection, some of which can be seen every Fall and Winter semester in the Print Study Room during select weeks of Modernist Print displays. For information, please visit moa.byu.edu/events.
Image: Kathe Kollwitz (1867-1945), The Widow I, Brigham Young University Museum of Art.